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    The Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center 'Peace, Progress, Human Rights' >> The Museum's Permanent Exhibit >>    

Mythology and Ideology in the USSR

1. Dreams of the future
Dreams of the future

Natural human aspirations for a brighter future have been reflected in the works of many writers, philosophers, political leaders, artists and architects. Blueprints for an ideal society were suggested by the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) in The Republic, by the English statesman Thomas More (1478-1535) in Utopia, and by the Italian philosopher and poet Tomasso Campanella (1568-1639) in City of the Sun. Artists and architects of the past imagined and planned on paper ideal cities. In the middle of the 16th century Italian architect P. Cataneo offered a plan of such a city. In the beginning of the 19th century architect S. Whitewell, at the request of English Socialist Robert Owen, designed a settlement for 2,000 people, founded on Owens's utopian principles. In the late 19th century the English economist Sir Ebenezer Howard put forward the idea of a garden city.

The Russian revolution of 1917 promised unlimited opportunities for transformation of the world. Many conventions and traditions that strangled creativity were suddenly gotten rid of and forgotten. Those who were fighting for a radiant future were sincerely convinced that the Russian revolution would give rise to a world revolution, and, in the course of time, the changes would even extend to the cosmos. It was typical for the architectural projects of the first decades after the revolution to reach for the sky with projects for a flying city and a city connected by aerial roads. All the deprivations people were suffering in the course of realizing the "long cherished dream of humanity" could be justified by the task allotted to the Soviet people to build a society that had never existed before. "We were born to make a fairy-tale come true", the words of a popular song of that time were the expression of people's belief in their mission to transform the world..

Like every totalitarian society, Soviet society viewed itself as the nucleus of a "new world" at the beginning of a "new era". This idea, actively preached by the state ideology, provided people with a feeling of novelty and great expectations for "the radiant future". The optimistic belief in a radiant future excited mass enthusiasm, which made it possible for people to bear with the deprivations of their daily life.

2. The future is our only religion
The future is our only religion

The perspectives, opened by the revolution, also inspired artistic people. Alexander Blok sincerely called for people to "listen to the revolution with their hearts". Velimir Khlebnikov imagined the revolution not as a class struggle, but as a cosmic upheaval, a discovery of new "laws of time". Valery Bryusov recognized "new forms of life" in the cultural process of his era and gave thought to "a new language, a new style, new metaphors, new rhythms".

The years immediately preceding and following the revolution were the golden age of the Russian avant-garde movement, characterized by energy, enthusiasm, creative search without a backward glance at earlier authorities, defiance of conventional values, and destruction of established traditions. The main features of the new art were its distinctive utopian and revolutionary message, social orientation, and aspiration to create a new world. Kazimir Malevich believed that "cubism and futurism were revolutionary movements in art that foretold the economic and political revolution of 1917." The constructivist El Lissitzky derived communism directly from the suprematism of Malevich. In 1917, "The Futurists' Newspaper", edited by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vasily Kamensky and David Burlyuk, was issued with the slogan "A revolution of the spirit", which was understood as radical breaking of the foundations of the old culture. The elements of a new language of painting — the square, the cross, and the circle — successfully developed the idea of overcoming space. "Black Square", painted by Malevich in 1915, became an icon of 20th century art. It became a symbol of a new religion, one of the postulates of which was formulated by the Italian Futurist Filippo Marinetti: "Futurism is our religion".

Denial of art as an end in itself, its relationship to reality and productive labor were reflected in industrial art, a fashionable trend of 1920s. "Neither toward the new, nor toward the old, but toward the needed" was a slogan proclaimed by a pioneer of Soviet design, the Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin. "Industrial artists" created modern furniture, typefaces, textiles, and clothing. The ideas of radical change of the world and the individual also affected objects of everyday life. Leading architects worked on a new type of housing designed for a collective way of living. The projects went under various names — "community housing", "housing for a new life", etc.

With time, the main function of Soviet art became the education of the "new Soviet man".

3. We conquer space and time
We conquer space and time

During the first years of Soviet rule, the appeals to refashion nature were filled with enthusiasm and romanticism. It was necessary to transform nature just as everything else belonging to the old world, and to build a new environment, more appropriate for the collective needs of Soviet society. The renewal and remodeling of nature were closely bound up with making the "new Soviet man". "By changing nature, man changes himself", Maxim Gorky declared in 1930s.

Mastering the cosmos, building electric power stations, giant factories, railroads and canals, developing virgin lands, digging the Moscow subway, constructing skyscrapers, and mining useful minerals from the earth were all evidence of man's mastery over his environment. "We can overcome any obstacle at sea or on land", - the lyrics from the popular song "March of the Enthusiasts" conveyed the conquering spirit of that time. Continual and gigantic demonstrations of the successes of Soviet construction were used to instill pride and confidence in the advantages of socialism, and the firm belief that the building of communism in the USSR was inevitable. All the instruments of propaganda -- newspapers, radio and film -- proclaimed daily the inevitability of turning utopia into reality. News about the great building sites of socialism — the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, the Magnitogorsk iron and steel plant, the Kara-Kum Canal, the Baikal-Amur railroad, the Turkestan-Siberian railroad, the Volga-Don Canal, the Kakhovka and Stalingrad power stations, and many other such marvels — continually appeared in Soviet newspapers. "Years and decades will pass by, and humanity, having built communism in all countries, will gratefully remember the Soviet people, who, unafraid of hardship and looking far into the future, were the first to engage in the great battle to master nature, to show mankind how to subjugate and transform it", declared official propaganda. Books and films praised the romance of labor. They paid tribute to the "heroism and creative power of the people" and their enthusiasm for collective feats.

4. Labor in the USSR is a matter of honor, skill and heroism
Labor in the USSR is a matter of honor, skill and heroism

Soviet totalitarian culture had its own mythological heroes — ordinary people, who were disciplined, enthusiastic about their work, and intolerant of shortcomings in every day life and at work. They hated the enemies of socialism, believed in the wisdom of the authorities and were unstinting in their devotion to the leader. New heroes, whom the authorities systematically created, were expected to become examples for others. Readiness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of "a radiant future" was one of the principal virtues of a Soviet man. Legendary pilots Valery Chkalov, Polikarp Osipenko, Marina Raskova, Valentin Grizodubova and Mikhail Vodopyanov, Arctic researchers Otto Shmidt and Ivan Papanin, and cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and German Titov were idols of their generations.

Everyday life could also be heroic. Work offered an opportunity to perform peaceful feats of heroism for the benefit of the country and its people. Skilled industrial workers organized the first shock groups and brigades in the mid-1920s — the main goal of the shock workers was to exceed their production quotas by the widest possible margin. The Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, the Stalingrad and Kharkov tractor plants, the Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk iron-and-steel plants, and the Moscow and Gorky automobile plants were among the first sites of socialist industrialization where shock labor was widespread. In 1935 Alexei Stakhanov, a worker of the "Central-Irmino" coal mine in the Donbas, exceeded his quota by 1,400% in one shift. (In reality, all the miners of his brigade assisted him.) That was the beginning of the Stakhanovite movement to increase labor productivity. (The miner Nikita Izotov later beat Stakhanov's record.) The movement became popular. In addition to material benefits, the pace-makers received public recognition. They were given the title of Hero of Socialist Labor, orders and medals, and Red Banners of the Central Committee of the Communist party, the Council of Ministers, the All-Union Central Soviet of Trade Unions and the Komsomol as trophies. They were also awarded "Winner of socialist competition" and "Shock worker of the five-year plan" badges.

Each field of industrial, scientific and cultural life had its own heroes to emulate.

5. Our slogan - The Soviet Union of the whole world
Our slogan  - The Soviet Union of the whole world

According to the official ideology, the Soviet Union was the center of the world, the source of the renewal of human history. "The earth begins with the Kremlin", - all Soviet children were taught, convinced that they were living in the best country of the world. Complete isolation from life outside the USSR played an important role in the upbringing of "a new man". People received information exclusively from Soviet media. Only foreigners who were loyal to the regime could visit the Soviet Union, among them authors H. G. Wells, Romain Rolland and Lion Feuchtwanger, artist Pablo Picasso, and singers Paul Robeson and Dean Reed. The art of Bolshevik manipulation lay in making the "new Soviet man" outraged with injustice everywhere except in his own country. He was ready to defend blacks in America, miners in England, and Republicans in Spain. This was called "internationalism". To bring up a new generation in the spirit of internationalism was a major challenge for socialist propaganda. The Communist International (also known as the Comintern or the Third International), an organization that existed from 1919 to 1943, united the Communist parties of the world to champion the policies and interests of the Soviet Union under Stalin. The Communist Youth International was one of its divisions. In 1922 International Red Aid (MOPR) was created by the Comintern to provide material and moral assistance to political prisoners in the West, while also training cadre for future Communist revolutions and the building of world socialism.

Throughout its existence the USSR gave a great deal of money to support foreign Communist Parties. Soviet leaders advertised their friendly relations with the leaders of other socialist countries (Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, et al.) and other Communist Parties (Luis Corvalan, Babrak Karmal, et al.).

The ideas of internationalism, friendship and mutual support for "fraternal nations"-- those who at least gave lip service to accepted socialist ideology -- were reflected in posters and slogans, songs and movies. The ideas of internationalism permeated the 1957 World Youth Festival held in Moscow and the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

6. A new historic community — the Soviet people
A new historic community — the Soviet people

The Soviet state was to be an example for the world of "internationalism in action", with a free, happy life for all the nations and peoples united inside the 37,000-mile-long border of the USSR.

The USSR was created on December 30, 1922, by a treaty joining the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belorussia and the Transcaucasian Federation (which included Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia). The Declaration on the Formation of the USSR issued by the First Congress of Soviets of the USSR explained the main reasons for forming the Union: to overcome the difficulties of the postwar economic revival, to answer the danger posed by capitalist encirclement, and to respond to the new internationalist Soviet regime which was promoting the international unity of the working people. The Declaration proclaimed that the Union was based on the free and unanimous decision of sovereign Republics and the equal rights of peoples. The Declaration affirmed that every Republic had the right to secede from the Union and that any existing or future Socialist Soviet Republic could be admitted into the Union.

On January 31, 1924 the first Constitution of the USSR was adopted by the Second All-Union Congress of Soviets.

On December 5, 1936, the USSR, by then containing eleven Union Republics, adopted a new Constitution, which gave legal recognition to "the victory of socialism". In 1977, when the USSR consisted of fifteen republics, the Constitution of a "developed socialist society" was adopted. It proclaimed a "new historical community — the Soviet nation". In 1954, a grandiose fountain called the "Friendship of Nations" was built on the grounds of Moscow's Exhibition of Economic Achievements of the USSR as a symbol of the happy family of fraternal nations of the Soviet Union.

Throughout the history of the USSR, Soviet literature, mass media, monumental art, festivals and public demonstrations proclaimed an "indisputable truth" - workers of all Soviet nationalities loved their fatherland because of its socialist character: its just and democratic Constitution, its socialist humanism, its kolkhoz agricultural system, the happy and prosperous life it provided for its citizens , and for all the other achievements of socialism.

7. Working people will live a better, richer and merrier life in the USSR
Working people will live a better, richer and merrier life in the USSR

In time, just this "happy and prosperous life" of the common man became the ideological confirmation of the success of the socialist construction. During the first years of the revolution, the arts and mass media created an image of the ideal Soviet state of the future. From 1930s, improvement in the everyday life of the average Soviet citizen was drummed into the people as a fact even though it too had no basis in reality. Stalin's pet refrain: "Life has become better, life has become merrier" — was supported by uplifting artworks, cheerful newspaper reports, bright posters, and by the enthusiasm displayed in sport parades and other mass activities popular in the Stalin era. A popular song from the film "Circus" portrayed an ideal socialist society as already built: "we make way for youth, and we honor old age", "everyone has a right to education, rest and work", "everyone is invited to the table, everyone is rewarded according to his just deserts".

Propaganda depicted a happy world with laughing, joyful characters, whether a collective of workers in a park, a family moving into a new apartment, eager athletes, tourists enjoying the Exhibition of Economic Achievements, or children at a New Year party.

Soviet leaders reported that illiteracy had been liquidated in the USSR, that everyone could get a secondary education, that workers had access to a great variety of cultural achievements, and that the standard of living was rising. Optimistic official reports about record harvests, the increase of per capita iron and steel production, newspaper photos of heaps of bagels and piles of aluminum pans, posters advertising black caviar and vacuum-cleaners, the bright shop-windows of the capital and fantastic recipes of delicious sturgeon dishes in health food cookbooks created an image of an affluent society. However, in the real world the Soviet common man encountered "deficits" of almost all consumer goods, ration cards, and later on, long queues for buckwheat, sausage, Dumas novels, Finnish boots and toilet paper.

8. The USSR guards peace throughout the world
The USSR guards peace throughout the world

A major element of every totalitarian mythology is the foreign enemy whom one must always be prepared to fight. Frequentt reminders of the hostile capitalist encirclement of the "most progressive state on earth" was in fact an original way of ordering the population to prepare for war. Periodic military exercises and civil defense training were a continual part of Soviet life in peace-time. Military classes for both boys and girls in all schools were an important ideological tool of soviet education. Many people can remember close order drill, the war games Eagle and Wildfire in which millions of children took part, the military departments at colleges and universities and the courses for military nursing.

Everything related to the military was romanticized in the Soviet Union. The Red cavalry, the Civil War heroes Vasily Chapaev, Nikolai Shchors, Semyon Budyonny, Pavel Korchagin and their literary counterparts were the idols of several generations. World War II heroes Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya and Alexander Matrosov, young people who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Soviet victory, inspired their compatriots to commit heroic deeds in war and in peace. To make sacrifices for the sake of Motherland, its people and its Communist party leaders was considered to be a principal virtue of Soviet man. Love of the socialist fatherland was closely connected to hatred for its "enemies". "We hardened our army in battle, We will sweep the foul invaders from our path", - this verse of the USSR's national anthem proclaimed the unbreakable bond of the people and the army that made them invincible.

The image of the Soldier-Liberator symbolized the messianic mission of the Soviet state to liberate people not only from the German fascist invaders, but also from the injustice of capitalism. Official speeches and slogans glorifying the USSR's achievements in the fight for peace were accompanied by a growing arms race and the overexpansion of the military-industrial establishment. This was reflected in the ambiguous lyric: "For the peace of the nations, for the happiness of the nations, our missiles were born".

9. The USSR is the mind, honor and conscience of our era
The USSR is the mind, honor and conscience of our era

The Communist Party enjoyed a place of exceptional honor in the Soviet Union. It was the only political party, and propaganda emphasized its "leading and guiding force" in building a "radiant future". "The Communist Party summons the Soviet people to great deeds", - they sang in the song "The Party is our Helmsman". Lenin's words "the Party is the mind, honor and conscience of our era" became the accepted description of its role in Soviet life.

Portraits of the leaders of the world proletariat — Marx, Engels, Lenin and their devoted disciples decorated the offices of state institutions, were printed in newspapers and magazines, and hung in classrooms, the "Red Corners" of factories, and in the homes of Soviet citizens. Lenin monuments and Lenin Squares became the ceremonial centers of towns and villages; they were the places where holiday celebrations and solemn meetings were held. Images of Lenin were ubiquitous in the life of Soviet man: in addition to paintings, statues and busts, his face appeared on the badges of the October Children, Pioneers and Komsomol youth organizations, on diplomas, medals and Communist Party cards, on flags, etc.

In a totalitarian society the leader is the unique embodiment of the sacred power of the state. In Soviet literature and art the leader appeared in several forms. As the key figure of world history he towered over his people. Huge monumental sculptures of Lenin and Stalin were meant to symbolize the leader's superhuman character. He was the inspiration for and organizer of victories in the 1917 Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Patriotic War (World War II), in Arctic expeditions, in cultivating the Virgin Lands, and in the exploration of the Cosmos. The leader was a wise teacher, exceptionally intelligent and perceptive, modest, simple and humane, a friend of children, sportsmen, collective farmers and scientists. Praise of the Communist Party and its leaders surrounded a person from birth. Children learnt poems and songs about Lenin and Stalin in kindergartens. The first word they learned to write in school was the name of the leader. They thanked father-Stalin instead of their parents for their "happy childhood". This is how generations were brought up to be "utterly devoted to the cause of Communism".

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Политика конфиденциальности

Региональная общественная организация «Общественная комиссия по сохранению наследия академика Сахарова» (Сахаровский центр) решением Минюста РФ от 25.12.2014 года №1990-р внесена в реестр организаций, выполняющих функцию иностранного агента. Это решение мы обжалуем в суде.

© Сахаровский центр

Политика конфиденциальности

Региональная общественная организация «Общественная комиссия по сохранению наследия академика Сахарова» (Сахаровский центр) решением Минюста РФ от 25.12.2014 года №1990-р внесена в реестр организаций, выполняющих функцию иностранного агента. Это решение мы обжалуем в суде.